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Gainesville school officials have 2 big priorities for state legislators come 2019
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The Gainesville Board of Education approved a list of 2019 state legislative priorities on Monday, Nov. 5, 2018, including expressions of support for more “wraparound services” and local control of school calendars. - photo by Joshua Silavent

Support for “wraparound services” and concerns about potential changes to school calendars are among the top 2019 state legislative priorities officials with Gainesville City Schools approved on Monday, Nov. 5.

“We did strike a few items off last year’s list, and added a couple this year,” Superintendent Jeremy Williams said.

Officials said they would share the list of priorities next month with lawmakers representing Gainesville and Hall County in the Georgia General Assembly.

Wraparound services

School officials have begun implementing new support services for students this year, including the addition of new social workers and a partnership with the United Way of Hall County to have a school social worker help coordinate the nonprofit’s Compass Center, which provides case management for families in need of services like access to health care, financial resources and basic needs.

“I think it’s very important,” Board of Education member Heather Ramsey said. “We are a Title I school district (which means a large share of the student body comes from low-income households), and the majority of our student population need these wraparound services in order to succeed.”

Board member Willie Mitchell said these services allow schools and educators to identify student needs outside of the classroom and direct them toward support services.

“One of my core beliefs over the years is that kids like a point of reference,” Mitchell said.

Board of Education chairman John Filson said school officials have spoken with lawmakers about the implementation of wraparound services, as well as state efforts to expand things like mental health counseling in schools.

“It will be good to follow up with that again,” Filson added.

School calendar

Also new on the priority list this year is the school system’s opposition to standardizing school calendars statewide and officially launching the school year after Labor Day.

A Senate study committee tasked with evaluating how a shift to a later start date would impact students and families, regional economies that depend on the tourism and hospitality industries, and the interests of local school districts will deliver a report on its findings in December.

Gainesville City Schools has 180 days of student instruction and 190 teacher days, including those for planning purposes. This calendar allows students to complete final exams before the Christmas break and conclude the school year shortly after testing in May.

Board members unanimously agreed that school calendars should be strictly left to local control.

Other priorities

Another major priority for 2019 is how charter system funds are divvied.

Williams said Gainesville City Schools receives about $750,000 each year with this funding stream. Ensuring it is equitable and that it is critical for mid-year budget adjustments to be made to cover enrollment growth.

The list also includes priorities established in recent years, such as support for in-state college tuition for all high school graduates regardless of their immigration status; support for workforce training and development of students; supporting mid-term funding adjustments to support continued enrollment growth; and support for enhanced collaboration between the school district and local colleges and universities to reduce barriers to dual enrollment programs.

Board member Sammy Smith said the priority list includes a “nice balance” for the appreciation of the work lawmakers have done, as well as requests for new support in 2019.